Pathologies: A Life in Essays

Chosen as one of the Top Ten Canadian Books in Kingston WritersFest’s Canada 150 Event and 49th Shelf: 100 Canadian Books to Read in a Lifetime

Creative Nonfiction Collective, Readers’ Choice Award, 2010


In these fifteen searingly honest personal essays, debut author Susan Olding takes us on an unforgettable journey into the heart of being human. Each essay concerns a different aspect of her life, from her complicated family relationships to her tricky dealings with peers, to her work as a counsellor and teacher, to her struggles with infertility and adoptive parenthood. Throughout, she probes the ethics of writing about others, never shying from turning her scalpel upon herself. Pathologies heralds the arrival of one of Canada’s finest new writers, one who has taken the challenging, much-underused form of the literary essay and made it her own.


Praise for Pathologies

“Susan Olding’s work combines the visceral force of lived experience with the nuance and narrative drive of the best fiction. These essays are much  more than essays, tracing the path from our pathologies to our deepest mysteries and fears and our most cherished hopes.” (Nino Ricci)

“We could call her warm, wise, funny, honest, sincere, and open—and she is—but what she has done here is even better than that. Pathology is built from the Greek roots pathos and logos—suffering and the word. Writing is Olding’s science; her words clarify pain.” (Keith Maillard)

“Strictly speaking, Pathologies is a collection of essays, but the deeply personal and at times self-reflexive nature of each piece evokes the genre of memoir. Likewise, Olding’s creative blending of straight first-person narrative with unconventional stylistic motifs (lyrical quotations from Keats, symbolic excerpts from medical and other reference sources, temporal shifts, memories) serves to destabilize the traditional definition of the literary essay. Through a series of thoughtful meditations, the reader is left with the singular impression of having witnessed firsthand the creation of a vivid self-portrait.” (Quill and Quire)

“Wise…filled with…well-wrought, pithy observation about life, pain, parenting, illness and other essential components of human existence.” (Nigel Beale, The Globe and Mail)

“Essays so honest and convincing, we don’t even care how fallible and partial memory may be.” (Ascent Magazine, Editorial pick)

“She writes with a surgeon’s hand—deft, and firm.” (Xpress Ottawa)

Pathologies is a frank anatomization of emotions and “the way things go wrong…” (Utne Reader)

Pathologies is a deeply intelligent and original book.” (Theresa Kishkan)

“Olding’s collection illustrates that the individual difficulties are not what isolate us, but what unite us in common experience. For in writing about her personal experience, Olding describes elements of our own lives as well. Perceptive readers rejoice to find aspects of their own lives illuminated by such a skillful hand.” (HeraldLeader)

Pathologies may be Susan Olding’s first book, but there is nothing amateur about it; subtitled “A Life in Essays,” this collection of sixteen essays is an accomplished investigation into the process of life-writing.” (Karis Shearer, Matrix)

Download a Reading Guide to Pathologies
Pathologies by Susan Olding












“In simple terms, pathology is the scientific study of the way things go wrong.” and 49th Shelf: 100 Canadian Books to Read in a Lifetime

Creative Nonfiction Collective, Readers’ Choice Award, 2010

Long listed for the BC National Award for Canadian Nonfiction

Long listed for the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Nonfiction



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